by Staff Writers
Rome (AFP) Dec 11, 2014
Nobel peace prize winners on Thursday showered praise on Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille for contesting President Jacob Zuma's refusal to grant the Dalai Lama an entry visa to South Africa.
Zuma's stance on the visa issue, aimed at maintaining good relations with China, led to a planned summit of Nobel winners in Cape Town being relocated to Rome, a move that de Lille supported despite her city's loss of a prestigious event that was supposed to mark the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela's death.
"To deny the Dalai Lama a visa is the kind of thing that happened in the oppressive years of apartheid when people were not allowed to freely enter our country," de Lille said at a press conference ahead of the rescheduled meeting, which is being held from Friday to Sunday in the Italian capital.
She said she hoped that Cape Town would eventually get the chance to host the event.
"One day the government will realise that it can't stop the movement for peace around the world."
Northern Ireland peace campaigner Mairead Maguire, who jointly won the 1976 peace prize, was among several laureates to laud de Lille's action.
"We all agreed that we could not go ahead with the conference in South Africa in the circumstances, and the courage of the mayoress in standing by that decision is very, very inspiring," Maguire said.
Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni women's rights activist who won the Nobel in 2011, joked: "I am sure that we will do it again in Cape Town ... when she is the president of South Africa!"
Landmines campaigner Jody Williams, the 1997 winner, added: "It was very disturbing for all of us. We hoped to be able to celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela and it didn't work out for political reasons which is very tragic.
"But I want to praise the mayor for the courage she showed in standing up to her own government and for backing our decision to take the summit out of her beautiful city."
- No Pope meet -
Speaking to AFP, Williams revealed that Rome mayor Ignazio Marino had been visited by Chinese officials and warned there would be consequences for the decision to step into the breach created by the South African visa decision.
Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Pope Francis confirmed that the pontiff would not be meeting the Dalai Lama during his time in Rome.
Sources said the Vatican decision to sidestep an opportunity to meet the 79-year-old Buddhist leader reflects concern over what would inevitably be a furious Chinese reaction, and a desire not to jeopordize efforts to build bridges with Beijing or risk retaliation against the country's small Catholic community.
"Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates," the Vatican spokesman said, adding that the pontiff would be sending a video message to their conference.
It is now more than eight years since the Dalai Lama was last granted a papal audience by Francis's predecessor Benoit XVI in October 2006.
Critics say the apparent reluctance to meet the Tibetan leader is at odds with the pope's emphasis on interfaith dialogue. Relations with Buddhism are expected to be a central theme of Francis's visit to Sri Lanka next month.
"If the pope is avoiding his Holiness then I would find that very, very upsetting, especially from this pope," Williams said.
The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with China since they were broken off by Mao in 1951.
On a visit to South Korea in August, the pope called for a normalisation of relations, but insisted that could only happen if China's Catholics are accorded the right to exercise their religion freely, and when the Vatican is allowed to appoint bishops in the world's most populous country.
Researchers say there are about 12 million practising Catholics in China, half of whom attend services under the auspices of a state-controlled association. The other half are involved in clandestine churches which swear allegiance to the Vatican.
Fidel Castro wins China's 'Confucius Peace Prize'
Castro bested more than 20 nominees including South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional group led by Moscow and Beijing, to win this year's "Confucius Peace Prize", the state-run Global Times reported.
The Cuban revolutionary icon was selected by nine judges out of a group of 16 experts and scholars, the paper said.
The shadowy Confucius prize emerged in 2010, when it was suddenly announced by the panel two days before jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel to Beijing's anger, sparking speculation it was set up with the government's guidance.
A Cuban exchange student received this year's award on Castro's behalf at a ceremony on Tuesday, one day before Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi accepted their Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
"While in office, Castro didn't resort to violence or force to settle disputes in international relations, especially with the United States," the Global Times wrote.
"After his retirement, he has been actively meeting with leaders and groups from all over the world and has made important contributions to emphasising the need to eliminate nuclear war," it added.
Since leaving office in 2006 during a nearly fatal health crisis, Castro, 88, has spent his free time writing books and articles for the official press in Cuba, which now is led by his younger brother Raul.
In 2010, the first Confucius Peace Prize winner was awarded to Taiwan's Lien Chan at a chaotic press conference, although the former vice president's office denied all knowledge of it.
Organisers of the prize denied links to the government, but the award's executive chairman Liu Haofeng told AFP later that it had been set up by an association overseen by China's culture ministry.
In a move that added to the confusion surrounding the prize, the following year the ministry ordered organisers to scrap it, but the academics pressed ahead with their plans and gave it to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping shared the award in 2012, and Yi Cheng, a Zen master who is the honorary head of the Buddhist Association of China, was awarded it last year.
China's foreign ministry on Thursday denied any government connection to the prize.
The award was "organised by a civil organisation in China, which showcases their aspirations for world peace", spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing.
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